Sunday, April 02, 2006

Today is Opening Day...Maybe

It is always cruel when you look forward to something and then it does not come to pass. Today should be opening day between the Indians and White Sox, but apparently a monsoon is about to hit Chicago and derail that. This will be one of those disjointed random junk entries which there is absolutely no reason to read. I can see that some people may be interested in Win Shares or R+/PA or RPW converters, but I would be surprised to know that anyone cares to read a column that will mention Lost.

First, a little thing about fantasy baseball. I am in a 5x5, 18 team league on Yahoo which had its draft yesterday. My second round pick was Jose Reyes. This is kind of bothersome to me, because I wouldn’t pick the guy with a .304 OBA for my real team. But he figures to hit .280, play every day, and get a bunch of steals, so he is a fine pick for the situation...he was the top-rated guy left on my draft list at the time, and believe me, I was trying to justify ways to myself not to pick him. I realize that there are other more realistic scoring methods for fantasy baseball then 5x5 or the other standards, but I am not so much complaining about them as lamenting the fact that sometimes you have to populate your team with guys you wouldn’t in real life.

Then we have the ongoing steroids crap. I am truly uninterested in who was using or not using steroids, so I hate to even address this, but there is one thing that has been bothering me. I have seen some people talk about how it is the “biggest threat to the game since the Black Sox scandal” and even using it to drum up sympathy for the admitted baseball bettor Pete Rose, i.e. “What Rose did is not nearly as bad as what [Bonds, Palmeiro, etc.] did”. First, on the Black Sox thing, I think that canceling the WORLD SERIES is just a tad bit more of a threat to the game of baseball then some guy injecting himself in the butt.

But on the issue of the integrity of the game, and Pete Rose, let me ask a question: Why would a baseball player take steroids? There is only one answer: He would take steroids because he thinks they will enhance his performance. Now whether his motivation for this is because he wants to make more money, or be more famous, or help his team win, or break a record, is irrelevant. Because no matter what the motivation is, he is doing it because he thinks it will make him a better player, and therefore, even if it is not the prize he has in sight, help his team win more games.

Gambling on baseball is so abhorrent because it opens the door to taking actions which are not in the best interest of your team, and in fact could help your team lose. Steroid use may in fact be detrimental to your team, if it causes more injuries or takes away from other parts of your game, but the intention is always to do good. The fact that steroid use may be detrimental to your team, is sort of like the fact that eating lots of food may be detrimental to your team. David Wells did not get fat thinking “How can I screw over the Red Sox”, and a steroid user did not take steroids thinking that either. But somebody who is betting on baseball may well have a stake in sabotage.

Now none of this is to say that steroids should be encouraged because they are taken with the intentions of improving your performance. If you want to continue to be outraged about it, go ahead, although I will ignore you. But don’t try to pass off the tripe about Pete Rose. It doesn’t fly with me, and it doesn’t fly logically.

I picked up the preview issue of Sports Weekly this week, and have a few gripes. I am bitter about the erstwhile Baseball Weekly as is. When they switched to providing NFL coverage, they informed us that they would not cut back on their baseball coverage in anyway. Then they dropped the box scores and had NFL crap on the cover half of the time during the baseball playoffs. So I never renewed my subscription, and usually only pick up the Spring Training and Season preview editions. Now I see that they have added NASCAR coverage, which only further dilutes the baseball content that they promised us would not be cut back on.

Anyway, they could also stand to hire some proof-readers, because I didn’t realize that Alex Fernandez had made a comeback, as a shortstop for the Red Sox no less! The cover story is “Who Will Shock the World?”, with the implication being that the last five World Series winners were all surprises, and so who will it be this year? (They pick the Phillies as the team with the best chance to be a surprise). I have never understood the need to stretch the truth to make your point, when you already have a good point to begin with. I will readily admit to being surprised by the World Series victories of the Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, and White Sox. To try to convince me the Red Sox championship was a surprise is a stretch. How can a team be a surprise after coming almost as close as you can come to making the World Series without actually doing it the year before? It would be like saying the Indians would be a big surprise if they won the Central this year (incidentally, their survey of baseball people picks the Indians as the third-most likely surprise team, which means that the people they surveyed must be surprised any time the same eight teams don’t qualify for the playoffs in consecutive years).

Finally, we come to an article in the Palm Beach Post entitled “Statistical Significance”. It has little profiles of a few sabermetricians (including Bill James, Studes of The Hardball Times and Baseball Graphs, and Marc Normandin of Beyond the Box Score), and sort of tries to show that they aren’t just geeks, they are somewhat normal people. You will not learn anything you did not know from reading this piece, but it is what it is and it’s cool to see these guys get mentioned in the mainstream media.

However, this article refers to them as “stat masters”. This may be the singular worst euphemism ever developed for “stat-drunk computer nerd”, and I am very grateful that no one has ever referred to me as a “stat master”. I good-naturedly complained about being called a “baseball wonk” by Studes in the Hardball Times Annual. I hereby take back those complaints, as that is an infinitely preferable term to “stat master”.

This article also tells you that Studes likes to watch Lost and 24. Good tv taste, there. Maybe they should next do a piece about the “Lost masters” who are currently dissecting the map on the door. I’d like to know who the Others are and where Walt is too, but what I really want to know is, what happened to Montan’s frickin arm?

I don’t have the book in front of me, so I can’t really do a full review, but if you are at all interested in the strategic side of the game, you should read The Book by Tango, Mickey Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin. It is by far the most comprehensive analysis of the sacrifice, the stolen base, the intentional walk, etc. ever published. I will also tell you what it is not: it is not The Hidden Game of Baseball. It is not a sabermetric primer, it is applied sabermetrics. There are introductions to Linear Weights, Run Expectancy, etc., because these are the key tools used throughout the book. But there is no discussion about league adjustments, replacement levels, park factors, etc. It is not a book you read to get introduced to sabermetrics, it is a book you read to learn about how sabermetrics can evaluate strategy (which can also be read by someone not familiar with sabermetrics, if they are willing and able to get the basics of the methods down).

The point of that is to say that this is unlike any other book in your sabermetric library. The most interesting thing, I thought, was the application of game theory to strategic decisions. For instance, even if bunting is a bad play in general, you still should do it occasionally because otherwise, the defense will respond, and they will thereby lower the expected gain you get from not bunting. The introduction of game theory invalidates to some extent the traditional sabermetric techniques of strategy evaluation. This is an area that I think could be looked into further (I am not saying that their coverage is poor, just that you could probably write a whole book just about that), and I anticipate that somebody somewhere will do some good work in this area in the future. Perhaps even the authors of The Book themselves.


  1. Thanks for your comments about steroids. I really think steroids is a minor issue which revolves around an irrational hatred for Barry Bonds. I've believed for a long time that most players have taken steroids. Given the competitive nature of professional athletes and given that baseball did nothing to discourage steroid use, why would they not take them? I'm glad that steroid use is now being discouraged but I find the shock and outrage to be silly.

    It is indeed completely illogical to compare gambling and steroid use.
    Allowing widespread gambling would reduce the game to professional wrestling. Widespread steroid use just adds more offense to the game which is something that most fans like. I personally don't like the homerun derby style of play but it's hardly threatening the game.

  2. Hope you're all right and back to posting soon.

  3. Thanks, I'm fine, it's just that I've been busy with other stuff and blogging is below a lot of other stuff on my priority list. If you look at the archives you can see I went from May to October without posting last year. I don't intend to do that this year, and was actually writing an entry today, but I can't promise a lot of posts. So feel free to check back every month or so :)

    But I do appreciate that somebody notices.


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